Yakuza 3 Review – A major misstep and a dated experience

Yakuza 3 is finally on PC, and it’s the fourth game in the Yakuza franchise chronologically.  However, it is now the most dated for the franchise.  Where Yakuza 0 was released in 2015 for the Playstation 4, and Yakuza Kiwami and Kiwami 2 were remade in 2016, and 2017 and also released for the Playstation 4, Yakuza 3 was originally released in 2009 and for the Playstation 3. 

The version on PC, Ps4, and Xbox One is the remastered version, which has all sorts of bells and whistles fans would expect.  There is a higher graphic fidelity and more standardized 1080p resolution. There is also content that was cut from the original English version that has been restored, and a retranslation that removes important mistranslations. 

I bring this up not to just enumerate the changes, but to dive into the big issue with Yakuza 3.  Yakuza 3 is a remaster.  While it has a large amount of additional content and gameplay, this is ultimately a PS3 game with a slight graphical upgrade.  Where the previous Yakuza games are beautiful, Yakuza 3 is dated by the simple fact that this game originally was made for the PS3.  

While the graphics have been rescaled for larger resolutions, they still look weak.  There’s something off with how the scaling happened, which can make the main character, Kiryu, a little wider than he should be, and it’s become a noticeable issue, to the point memes have been made out of it. 

Having the original game based on the Ps3 version of the game also makes the character models noticeably weaker.  That’s not to say Yakuza 3 is a horrible game, as the PS3 still had a lot of graphical prowess, but while I normally skip talking about graphics this is particularly jarring when coming from the previous three games in the series.

At the same time, Yakuza games are packed with content to the point that graphics don’t matter as much and the core of the Yakuza story will always be what matters.  If someone was to make Yakuza 2’s amazing story and couple it with these graphics it would be almost as enjoyable.

Yakuza 3’s story on the other hand is more of a struggle.  Yakuza 3 starts with a flash-forward showing two major shootings, and then without telling players what is up, the game jumps back a year.  This is the same issue that happened in Yakuza Kiwami, and while there’s only one major time jump in Yakuza 3 it’s a jarring one, though perhaps it was to alert fans to expect that  Yakuza 3’s story will eventually include the Tojo Clan, along with the current chairman, Daigo Dojima.

In practice, this is a strange moment that doesn’t fit with the game, though its need is clear when the opening chapters of Yakuza 3 deal with the life of the retired Kiryu Kazuma.  After the events of Yakuza Kiwami 2, Kiryu is now running an orphanage in Okinawa and takes care of a large group of kids, including Haruka, from both of the previous Kiwami titles. 

The orphanage is a central part of Kiryu’s story, and the game takes a long time to develop the new character and laidback lifestyle.  Kiryu is no longer the big bad Yakuza, but rather just trying to live a civilian life, and while fighting random people is never that far away, it’s a very different opening and story. 

Some fans will dislike this, as the previous games were all about the seedy underbelly of life in a big city, and while Yakuza 3 does eventually reach that point, it takes a significant amount of time to reach it. 

Yet this is a strong way to develop a sequel that takes some risks with the already established characters.  Yakuza 3 shows the player a different life for Kiryu, and that experience is well developed and defined.  It’s clear how Kiryu has changed as a person. 

Eventually, those opening scenes catch up with the story about five hours in, and Kiryu is off to Tokyo… Except he’s not.   Yakuza 3 has serious pacing issues, and when Kiryu is planning to leave for Tokyo is a perfect example.  There is a critical and important reason Kiryu needs to leave immediately.  However, Kiryu will play baseball with his children, start to teach a dog a few tricks, and can go on an elongated side mission involving characters from the previous game.  All of this feels like a waste of time.  There was perhaps an hour or two between when Kiryu said he had to travel to Toyko and before the game would allow the player to go. 

While Yakuza games have the issue where players can wander off the main path to do side content, it’s Yakuza 3’s main story that has these issues with pacing.

This becomes a common theme.  Major events are happening, yet Yakuza 3 decides some minor situation is more important.  Rushing to save someone’s life is delayed because spending time with Haruka is more important to the story.

While the story in Yakuza 3 is poorly told, some concepts are interesting.  Many major story points in Yakuza 3 work.  The concept of life after being in a Yakuza family is interesting, and not only does Kiryu explore that but another group inside the game does as well.  

The problem is Yakuza 3’s story isn’t as good as the core concepts are.  There are numerous jumps in logic, or outlandish actions, that just don’t make sense, and there’s a major mystery that is explained by logic that would better fit in with a soap opera, than a serious crime drama. 

I also have a slight issue with the ending of Yakuza 3, but without wishing to dive into spoilers, it’s not only terrible in hindsight but also terrible in execution. 

Yakuza 3 still contains the side content that the series is known for, and has multiple different mini-games, including fishing, an arcade shooter, golf, cabaret club,  and more.  There are over 100 side stories and a ton of content.   

Many of the mini-games in Yakuza 3 are significantly harder than they should be or require multiple plays due to random number issues instead of an actual challenge. However the amount of content is still at the levels that will draw in fans of the series, and the side stories are often interesting, hilarious, and entertaining.  I found myself wandering off to tackle side stories whenever they appeared as they continued to be the most entertaining piece of Yakuza 3.

But like always hiding behind everything else is the combat, as Yakuza 3 will eventually have a reason for Kiryu to fight enemies.  Whether it be in the main story, random encounter, or the resolution of a side story, there’s always someone who needs a beatdown.  

There are two types of enemies in Yakuza 3.  The random thugs that players will find throughout the game are the typical fare for the Yakuza series.  A few swift attacks, and maybe a special move will knock them down in seconds and while players can be swarmed, a good solid strategy will win out most of the time. 

On the other hand, there are the “bosses” and I use that term to generally collect anyone who is given a similar style and a hard fight.  Yakuza 3’s style is to allow the “boss” enemies to block almost every attack.  The most egregious problem with the system is that “bosses” are allowed to block in the middle of a normal combo for Kiryu.  If Kiryu lands the first hit, there’s no guaranteed combo and the send hit will usually be blocked.

This is a different style of combat for sure.  Yakuza 3 really seems to push the idea of Kiryu dodging attacks and then hitting enemies from behind and racking up large damage, and while conceptually that can work, most bosses are extremely punishing if the player fails to dodge a blow.  “Bosses” have large reaches, fast attacks, low recovery time, and high damage when their attack lands.  All of that produces a battle that players will likely fail many times, unless the player instead chooses to just focus on frontal assaults, and then dash away after their combo is over.  While getting behind an enemy will feel good, it’s extremely difficult to pull off reliably, and becomes tiresome to do multiple times to the same enemy.  Instead chugging healing potions and just laying into enemies for minor damage is preferable. 

The combat when Kiryu runs into a “Boss” drives the experience of Yakuza 3 down.  I started on Hard Difficulty but switched to Normal after running into the second boss turned into an impossible fight due to how much the blocking the enemy would do and how little damage Kiryu’s attacks dealt.  In hindsight, I probably would have preferred to switch to Easy.  Not due to an actual difficulty in the normal setting, but to speed up the fights and hopefully produce less combat. 

But with a game that has combat as a core piece of the gameplay, this is a bad experience and part of me is shocked that the combat wasn’t changed as part of the remaster process.  It might have been a major change, but it also would have produced a far better game. 

I’ve grown to love the Yakuza Franchise over the past three years.   It’s been a source of a lot of enjoyment, it’s a series that consistently produced amazing experiences and unique storytelling, and Yakuza 3 doesn’t completely change the experience provided.  

However, Yakuza 3 feels like it’s a game that wasn’t as carefully crafted.  The combat is annoying, the story could be improved, the side content is numerous but lacking a major pull for the player, and in general Yakuza 3 feels like a huge step backward, for a series that has all the momentum behind it. 

Perhaps this is because it’s an improved PS3 game, perhaps Yakuza 3 just could never live up to the original games, or perhaps Yakuza 3 is just bad, whatever the reason is, trying to play through this game in 2021 is a rough experience, but I also believe it would be a similarly rough experience back when the game was released on the PS3. 

As such I am forced to give Yakuza 3 an arbitrary 

6/10

However, I’ll recommend Yakuza 3 based on a simple fact.  The Yakuza series is an episodic experience.  Each game builds and develops the world of Yakuza and Kiryu.  As such, Yakuza 3 should be played in the series.  After Yakuza Kiwami 2, Yakuza 3 is required to continue, and hopefully, future games will prove themselves to be worthy of the time here. 

But on its own Yakuza 3 is not worth it as there are at least three games before it is far more worthy of the player’s time.  While 20 dollars is a great price, I would recommend buying the entire Yakuza remastered trilogy so when Yakuza 3 is finished, players can wash the taste of this game out of their mouth with the rest of the series. 

I’m glad I saw the story, but I’m even more glad I can move on to the next title, soon.

If you enjoyed this and want to see more from me, you can check out my youtube channel at 

https://www.youtube.com/c/KinglinkReviews

4 thoughts on “Yakuza 3 Review – A major misstep and a dated experience

  1. I am currently playing yakuza 3 after playing 0 through the remakes. Graphically it didn’t bother me that much but gameplay wise and story wise it is a huge let down. The combat is the worst among the yakuza games that I have played till now.

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  2. I’m having the same issues. Late to the series, but just started trying to go through them in order (after starting with 0) and Kiwami 2’s combat felt weird at first but grew on me. About ten hours in and I can already tell this will be a chore. I like everything but the combat, low level enemies aren’t so bad but my god, the bosses. Attacks barely do any damage and they guard 90% of the time.

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  3. I enjoyed every single moment in the story, especially Kiryu spending time with his kids, so it’s not a problem for me. The combat is not as good as the sequels, but compared to the original Yakuza 2 this is a HUGE improvement in every single aspect. The combat requires you to take it slow (or rather, slower than the other games), and utilize most of your moveset, which I loved. In Yakuza 4 it feels like you’re hitting dummies with little to no defenses and it can get boring quick, compared to Yakuza 3 where you need to strategize more

    There is one thing I really do not like with this review is that you’re describing Yakuza 3 as a “huge step backward”, which is completely untrue considering how much of an improvement this game is compared to the original Yakuza 2. It is unfair to compare Yakuza 3 to Kiwami 2 and then saying it’s a mistep or a step backward.

    I rate this review a 6/10.

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